Europeans in India – The Portuguese Part 3 A Viceroy and Three Governors Section III: Lopo Soares & Diego Lopes

Canberra, 3 December 2022

[Detailed accounts of the tenures of the first Viceroy and three Governors who succeeded him have been given for the reader to get a flavour of the activities that these individuals undertook to perpetuate Portuguese presence in the Indian sub-continent and to create a monopoly on the lucrative spice trade, which was the primary reason for their arrival on the coast of Calicut in May 1498. The transformation from traders to colonisers was fairly rapid, although carried out insidiously, both activities being undertaken with ruthless cruelty towards the local people, adhering to no moral or ethical principles or scruples of humanity. In the Portuguese administrative system, all viceroys were governors, but only some of the governors were honoured by being bestowed the title of viceroy. From 1505, when the first Viceroy/Governor reached Indian shores to ‘rule’ Estado da India, the Portuguese state in India, till Goa was taken back by the newly ‘independent’ country of India in 1961, a total of 128 Governors administered the Portuguese territories in the sub-continent from their headquarters in Goa. Of these, only 51 were titled Viceroy. After this chapter, which gives a detailed account of the tenures of the two governors who followed Albuquerque, the history of the Portuguese in India will be narrated in a more generic manner, concentrating on the developments in trade, colonisation and other politico-strategic events, rather than on individuals.]

Lopo Soares de Albergaria, Governor 1515–1518

Lopo Soares sailed from Portugal on 7th April 1515 with 15 ships and 1,500 men at arms, reaching Goa on 8th September. Even though Albuquerque was still in Ormuz, Soares assumed command and started to sell anything and everything that he though not worth keeping. To his eternal shame, he also auctioned Albuquerque’s personal effects after the latter’s death at sea during the return voyage to Goa. On the other hand, when 24 Portuguese were killed in a riot in a small town along the coast, Soares took no action; similar riots and killings in different areas also went unpunished.

Although his personal courage in battle had been proven repeatedly—he had taken part in the defence of Cochin organised by Pacheco and in the Battle of Pandarani Kollam—Lopo Soares was a complete contrast to Albuquerque whom he replaced in 1515. He lacked all civility in dealing with local rulers, had no qualifying characteristics to be the governor, especially during the critical time that the Portuguese were facing in India, and managed to alienate most of the rulers with his staid deportment. Soares was an under confident man and as a compensatory mechanism for this drawback he ordered alterations to every arrangement that Albuquerque had made, while the latter was still on his return voyage from Ormuz. However, Soares failed in all his initiatives.  

One of his more visible failures was the result of the reversal of Albuquerque’s orders that no Portuguese was to engage in private trade. With the reversal of this order, which had always been strictly enforced, almost every Portuguese citizen in India, who could afford to, became a pirate, in the guise of being ‘traders’. One contemporary historian commenting on the change in policy and its immediate effect, wrote, ‘Till this time the gentlemen had followed the dictates of true honour, esteeming their arms the greatest riches; from this time forward they so wholly gave up themselves to trading, that those who had been captains became merchants, so that what had been command became a shame, honour was a scandal, and reputation a reproach’. As a result of this decision, local ships started to be heavily armed and encounters between local and Portuguese ships increased sharply. At the same time, since Soares would not back the Portuguese profiteers, his influence within the community started to wane. The better captains of the Portuguese fleet voluntarily returned to Portugal.  

The Red Sea Expedition

In January 1516, information was received that the Egyptians were preparing a fleet in the Red Sea to attack the Portuguese in India in order to avenge the defeat that had been inflicted on them at Diu in 1509. Soares assembled a fleet of 27 ships—manned by 600 Portuguese and 1,000 local sailors, accompanied by 1,800 Portuguese soldiers and 2,000 fighting slaves—and sailed for Socotra, reaching on 28th February 1517. The ships then moved on to Aden, which was in a weakened condition since it had only recently withstood a ferocious Egyptian attack. The walls of the fort had been broken in many places and the defenders had been decimated in numbers. Realising that he would not be able to withstand another determined assault, the commander sent a token of submission to the Portuguese.

For the Portuguese this was the most opportune moment to take over Aden, strategically located on the trade route, without having to fight for it. However, a visionless Soares who was ignorant of the broader strategic picture of establishing domination of the East, rejected the offer from the Aden commander, contending that his orders were to fight the Egyptians and taking Aden would divide his available forces, thereby jeopardising the primary mission. This decision was based on blind adherence to an order, written and issued months earlier from thousands of miles away by an entity who had absolutely no knowledge of the prevailing local conditions and strategic reality. Such blunders, brought about by rigidity in following the letter of an order, were the hallmarks of Soares’ governorship.

Soares sailed for the Red Sea and by the time the Portuguese entered the Sea, the local commander Suleiman had sent most of his fleet to the Suez, retaining only a token force in the region. Further, the Mameluke sultan of Egypt had been deposed and the country conquered by Ottoman Turks. Soares sailed into the straits at night and encountered a minor storm of no consequence. However, inept seamanship saw two ships being lost and two being separated from the fleet, never to re-join it. These four ships carried the major portion of the provisions and ammunition of the entire fleet. Major challenges to the fleet started with this avoidable debacle.  

The fleet reached Jedda, where intelligence had reported that the local garrison was suffering from low morale. However, contrary to expectations, the mouth of the harbour was heavily defended and the artillery from the fort were hurling 70-pound projectiles at the Portuguese fleet. Soares remained at the harbour mouth, in ‘inglorious inaction’ for 11 days, and then sailed away, once again quoting the kings orders as the reason for his not initiating any action. He cited his orders as being to fight the Egyptians at sea and did not include the attack on a city, which would amount to fighting on land. He also maintained that since the enemy fleet had sailed for the Suez, there was no threat to India and that an attack on Jeddah, even if successful, would cost far too many Portuguese lives than it was worth. Soares had not yet learned that summer months in the Red Sea would be more deadly on the sailors and soldiers who were without adequate provisions and shelter than attacking any well-defended town.

On the return journey, by the time the fleet reached Kamran, it was suffering from starvation because of lack of supplies. Soares was forced to harbour at Kamran for three months, awaiting favourable winds. During this period, over 800 Portuguese and nearly all the slaves perished and the living were so enfeebled that they could not even bury the dead. By the time the fleet sailed again in July for the straits, mutiny and rebellion had become common place. Enroute, they came across Zeila, which Soares attacked and burned along with the provisions that were in the town and would have been a godsend for the dilapidated and starving fleet. No explanation has been made regarding this thoughtless action and must be attributed to Soares following some obscure order from the king to the letter, without so much as thinking through the consequences of his action.

When the exhausted fleet reached Aden, expecting the same servile welcome that they had been given on the outward journey, the situation had altered. Now there was no talk of surrender, the walls had been rebuilt and further fortified and the commander gave Soares some fresh water as a great favour. Rebuffed at Aden, Soares started to sack Berbera. However, the winds were contrary for the Portuguese and losing patience, Soares sailed for Ormuz, leaving the rest of the fleet to follow him as best as they could. He reached Ormuz in mid-September and when the season arrived, sailed back to India.

Chaos in Goa

When he was setting out for the Red Sea, Soares had appointed a Spaniard Captain, D. Goterre de Monroy who was married to his niece, in-charge of Goa during his absence. Monroy had granted passes for trading freely. One renegade sailor had stolen few government ships and set out to carry out piracy in the African coast. Monroy then sent his brother to stop the renegade. Instead of trying to apprehend the renegade pirate, Monroy’s brother also turned to piracy and sailed towards Maldives to plunder that place. Portuguese affairs were not far from anarchy.  

While sailing to India, Monroy had fallen out with a returning sailor, named Caldeira, who had been banished to Portugal by Albuquerque and was coming back to India surreptitiously. Caldeira absconded to Adil Shahi territory on reaching Indian shores, where he was given protection by the local governor, Ankas Khan. Seeking personal revenge, Monroy sent an assassin to murder Caldeira, which was successfully done. However, the assasin was caught by Ankas Khan’s troops, beheaded, and his head sent back to Monroy in Goa. Enraged by this act of ‘defiance’, Monroy despatched a detachment of 60 cavalry under the command of his brother—who had returned from his successful piracy expedition with much booty—accompanied by a larger contingent of foot soldiers under the command of the local tax collector, who had no combat experience. The objective was to capture Ankas Khan and bring him to Goa as a prisoner.

The ill-coordinated raid, high on bravado but with almost no planning, was an abject failure. The Adil Shahi forces beat the Portuguese back, killing at least a hundred foot soldiers and the tax collector commander. This raid also provided the Adil Shah with the pretext he needed to attack Goa. The Portuguese garrison was besieged and only relieved when three Portuguese ships arrived at the harbour. The withdrawal of the Adil Shahi forces who were attacking from the land, at the arrival of a small quantum of sea power in the guise of three ships, vindicated Albuquerque’s belief that sea power could dominate countries that had coastal borders to defend.

The King Intervenes

In 1517, a new fleet arrived from Portugal bringing with it the Comptroller of Revenue, Fernao Alcacova, who had been invested with enormous powers. The king’s intentions were clear—he wanted the Indian administration to be divided into two separate establishments: one for the command of the military forces and general administration, and the other for the management of revenue. By the king’s orders, all factors and writers, the junior end of the bureaucracy who dealt with revenue, were placed under the direct control of the Comptroller. The king also decreed that no captain of a fortress could spent any money without prior approval of the Comptroller. Any factor who expended revenue on the captain’s orders was to be held personally responsible by the Comptroller.

The change required to implement this dual-control system in the chain of command and functioning of the establishment was monumental, especially so for a fledgling enterprise struggling to ameliorate many challenges, not the least of which was a deficiency in leadership. Even so, Soares as the Governor could have pushed the reforms through. However, he opted to pay lip service to being an obedient and loyal servant of the king while secretly instructing all his officials to obstruct the Comptroller as much as possible. Alcacova found his position untenable and went back to Portugal in the return voyage of the ships that he had come with to India.

Undeterred by successive failures, Soares now planned an expedition to Sri Lanka, spending the monsoon of 1518 in Cochin. He sailed in September 1518 and after a minor skirmish with local forces in the island, managed to set up a fort at a point of land near Colombo. On his return he found that his replacement had already arrived and taken charge. He handed over and started his return voyage on 20th January 1519. Soares had lost all respect of his soldiers and officials because of his conduct during the Red Sea expedition. His sudden outbursts of temper, pompous manner and dry speech did not help matters. Further, the justice he delivered was never tempered with mercy, which made the already harsh punishments seem harsher to the onlooker. Soares was vain, always insisting that the governor must have the best of everything and must be obeyed in all matters, at all times. His departure from India was a relief to all who had come into contact with him.

Diego Lopes de Sequeira, Governor 1518–1521

Diego Lopes sailed for India on 27th March 1518 and reached Goa on 8th September. Almost immediately he sailed again for Cochin, after sending a message to Soares, hoping to meet him before he embarked on the Sri Lanka expedition. Soares however evaded the message and continued with the expedition, perhaps with the intention of scoring at least one success during his failed tenure. He handed over on 20th December and left India the next month.

Diego Lopes had been given orders to build forts at Diu, Chaul, the Maldives, Sumatra and Malacca. However, he first turned his attention to the Red Sea. At the end of the monsoon rains in 1519, he sent instructions to Mozambique to divert the yearly fleet direct to the Red Sea. On 15th February 1520, he sailed out with 24 ships, 1,800 European soldiers and 800 fighting slaves for the Red Sea. His flagship was wrecked at the Babel Mandeb and although Lopes managed to escape with his life, nothing else was salvaged from the ship. He determined that there were no Turkish or Egyptian fleets in the Red Sea and retreated to Ormuz. There he joined with the incoming Portuguese fleet under Jorge d’Albuquerque, who was proceeding to Malacca to take over as captain, a position that he had previously held.

The Importance of Diu

The island of Diu is located in the Gulf of Khambat (Cambay), which is part of the Arabian Sea, off the southern tip of the Kathiawar Peninsula. It was not a port used for the shipping of merchandise to Europe and of limited commercial significance. Commercially it was considered the main export point for the cloth manufactured in Gujerat, which was popular in the East, even used as currency in some places beyond Malacca. Its strategic importance lay in the fact that it provided safe harbour and refuge for Muslim merchant ships, sailing to and from the Red Sea.

Lopes had stopped at Diu on his way back from Ormuz and even made a subtle attempt at taking over the place, which was repulsed by the provincial governor, the diplomatic Malik Ayyaz. Ayyaz showed a bold front to the Portuguese advances, blaming his demeanour on his master, the Sultan of Gujarat. When the Portuguese departed for Goa, he sent a spy embedded in their fleet, who reported the Portuguese intention and the danger it posed to Diu. Accordingly, Malik Ayyaz strengthened the fortifications, mounted fresh guns at strategic points and strung a chain at the mouth of the harbour as a safeguard.

Diego Lopes once again sailed for Diu, arriving on 9th February 1521 with 42 ships, 2,000 European and 1,800 local troops. This was a formidable force and obviously intent on taking over Diu. However, the defensive preparations that Ayyaz had made impressed the Portuguese war council, who refused to attack the port. The fleet sailed for Ormuz after the customary replenishments were done, without creating any misunderstanding with Malik Ayyaz. Lopes left a few ships behind to patrol the shores off Diu and to remove the Portuguese factor from the island to preclude his possible capture. Once the factor had been embarked, the Diu fleet sailed out and shelled the Portuguese ships, which then sailed away to Ormuz.

From Ormuz, the vast armada, so far controlled by Diego Lopes, dispersed to their different intended destinations—to Malacca and China. As a point of interest, of the 1,000 sailors and soldiers that sailed East, only 100 would return to India. From Ormuz, as a friendly gesture Lopes sent a force that defeated an opponent of the Sultan of Ormuz. On 15th August 1521, four ships were sent to blockade Diu, as a precursor to a possible invasion. While one of these ships was plundering a Red Sea merchant ship off the coast of Diu, some of the Diu fleet under the command of Aga Muhamad sailed out, sank the Portuguese vessel and rescued their own ship. They also took 25 Portuguese prisoners.

Since the sea was becalmed, devoid of wind, the smaller and more agile Diu ships, which were light boats, attacked the other three Portuguese ships. When the wind picked up, these three battered ships escaped and joined Lopes’ fleet which had by now come to a point off Diu. Lopes had followed the vanguard of four ships to Diu, once again planning an invasion to be conducted at an opportune time. He was unable to act since his provision ship had been blown up by some Muslim prisoners who preferred death to captivity. [As an aside, could this act be considered the precursor of the current suicide bomber mentality and modus operandi? Even in the 1500s, was Islam already on its way to propagating ‘suicide attacks’? Something for the current readership to ponder.] In any case, Malik Ayyaz was aware of all the Portuguese plans, information reaching him through well-planted spies in the Portuguese administrative system.

Foothold in Chaul

Since capturing Diu had become a non-event, Lopes turned his attention to Chaul, which the astute Albuquerque had identified as being an appropriate location to build a fort. Although an insignificant small place today, in the 16th century Chaul was an important port of trade belonging to the Nizam Shahi kingdom, ruled by Burhan Nizam Shah. Lopes sent an envoy to the Nizam Shahi sultan and obtained permission to erect a fort at Chaul, thereafter proceeding himself to the port. The Portuguese ships were closely followed by the Diu flotilla during this voyage. The Diu ships sank a Portuguese ship coming from Ormuz, in full sight of the Goa ships lying at anchor at Chaul.

A battle of attrition ensued. The Portuguese ships were considered agile by European standards but were sitting ducks in confined fighting spaces. Here the nimbler Diu ships were able to maul the more cumbersome Portuguese ships. The battle of attrition was definitely tilting in favour of the Diu fleet. By this time Diego Lopes’ replacement had arrived and Lopes prepared to return to Cochin to conclude the formalities. He placed Fernandes De Beja, who had commanded the ships of the failed Diu blockade, in command. However, De Beja was killed in battle even before Lopes departed and was replaced by Antonio Correa as the commander. Chaul could not be made a Portuguese stronghold, although they managed to maintain a presence there.

Diego Lopes – An Assessment

Diego Lopes sailed for Europe on 22nd January 1522. He had been a corrupt man and had amassed considerable wealth mainly through dishonest dealings, especially with the locals. Two of his more noticeable actions were instrumental in creating two pirates of note, Kuti Ali and Ali Ibrahim, who violently disrupted trade for several years. They had individually entered into partnerships with Lopes who had then cheated them of their fair share in commerce and also denied them justice as the governor—little wonder that they turned to piracy to harass the Portuguese and others aligned with them. The fact remains that Lopes never succeeded in any enterprise that he undertook, other than to make money for himself through dishonest means. It was during his tenure that the Portuguese gained the unsavoury reputation with the locals of being duplicitous in their dealings since they very often refused to recognise their own passes and also raided and captured merchant vessels at will. The rule of law, as had been established and followed before the arrival of the Portuguese on the West Coast, had forever been forsaken.

For the Portuguese trying to establish Estado da India, two consecutive governors had proven to be abject failures. That the enterprise continued, and even flourish to some extent, speaks volumes about the industrious underlings at the middle-management level and equally, the incapability of the local rulers to read the writing on the wall and unite to repel the cruel and bigoted foreigners.   


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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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